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Parental Altruism and Self-Interest: Child Labor among Late Nineteenth-Century American Families

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  • Parsons, Donald O
  • Goldin, Claudia

Abstract

Intergenerational relationships within late nineteenth-century industrial families are analyzed using several large-scale, contemporary household surveys. Nonaltruistic behavior by parents was pervasive. Even among families with positive assets, child labor was common in certain industrial settings, suggesting that child labor (or nonschooling) did not simply reflect parental borrowing constraints. Neither did physical asset transfers offset human capital losses among working youth. A quantitative estimate of parental nonaltruism is derived from an equilibrium labor market model: approximately 90 percent of all child earnings was implicitly competed away through lower adult wages as families migrated to areas with abundant child labor opportunities. Copyright 1989 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Parsons, Donald O & Goldin, Claudia, 1989. "Parental Altruism and Self-Interest: Child Labor among Late Nineteenth-Century American Families," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 27(4), pages 637-659, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:27:y:1989:i:4:p:637-59
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